Sound of Charlotte Blog

"An Instrument Meant to Be Played": Joshua Bell on His Stradivarius Violin



The Huberman Violin
by Joshua Bell, on his historic instrument's 300th birthday.

My violin is over 300 years old.

Known as the Gibson ex Huberman, the revered instrument came into my life one fateful day during the summer of 2001. I was in London, getting ready to play a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall and decided to stop by the famous violin shop, J & A Beare to pick up some strings. As I entered the shop, Charles Beare was just coming out of the back room with a stunning violin in hand. He told me that it was the famous Huberman Strad, and of course I was instantly intrigued.


I soon learned all of the known details of the violin's remarkable history, which is complete with twists and turns to rival the film that I had only recently finished working on, The Red Violin. Believed to be one of only five or six instruments made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, the violin has belonged to many, including the English violinist George Alfred Gibson. But it was its connection to Bronislaw Huberman that I found particularly fascinating and somewhat personal.

Huberman was a Jewish Polish violinist who lived from 1882-1947. He was a child prodigy who was revered for his remarkable virtuosity and daring interpretations. Huberman studied under Joseph Joachim in Berlin, and by the age of 11 he was already touring Europe as a virtuoso. It was during one of those early tours that he met the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who was only six at the time, and had not yet achieved the legendary status that he came to hold. The two musicians remained lifelong friends.
 
At 13 Huberman had the honor of performing the violin concerto of Johannes Brahms in the presence of the composer himself, who was stunned by his interpretation. According to biographer Max Kalbeck, "As soon as Brahms heard the sound of the violin, he pricked up his ears, during the Andante he wiped his eyes, and after the Finale he went into the green room, embraced the young fellow, and stroked his cheeks. When Huberman complained that the public applauded after the cadenza, breaking into the lovely Cantilena, Brahms replied, 'You should not have played the cadenza so beautifully.' "

Huberman became one of the most celebrated musicians of his time, but it was in 1929 that his contribution to humanity took on an added dimension. During that year he visited Palestine and came up with the idea to establish a classical music presence there. During Hitler's rise to power, Huberman had the foresight to realize he could save many Jewish artists while fulfilling his desire to start a Palestinian Orchestra. Huberman auditioned musicians from all over Europe. Those selected for the orchestra would receive contracts and, most importantly, otherwise impossible-to-get exit visas from their homeland to Palestine. Huberman raised the money for the musicians and then their families, even partnering with Albert Einstein to set up an exhaustive U.S. fundraising trip in 1936. By the end of that tour, the money for the orchestra was secured and sixty top-rate players had been chosen from Germany and Central Europe.  

All in all, it was a fantastically successful tour, barring one particular performance at Carnegie Hall on February 28th.  That night Huberman chose to play the second half of his concert on his 'other violin', a Guarneri del Gesu.  During the applause following his performance of the Franck Sonata, Huberman's valet walked on stage to inform him that his Stradivarius had been stolen from his dressing room. The police were called while Huberman tried not to panic, continuing optimistically with his encores. The instrument had previously been stolen in 1919 from a hotel room in Vienna but was recovered days later when the thief tried to sell it. This time, Huberman was not so lucky.

There are several versions as to exactly how and why the violin was stolen, but what we know for sure is that the instrument ended up in the hands of a young freelance violinist by the name of Julian Altman. Some say Altman's mother convinced him to steal it; others report that Altman bought if off the actual thief for $100. Regardless, Altman took great pains to conceal the violin's true identity, covering its lovely varnish with shoe polish and performing on it throughout the rest of his career, which included a stint as first chair with the National Symphony Orchestra during World War II.

Heartbroken, Huberman never saw his Stradivarius again. However, his great dream was fulfilled when the new Palestine Orchestra made its debut in December of 1936 with the great Toscanini on the podium. I like to imagine that my own relatives might have been in the audience on that opening night, as my grandfather was born there and my great grandfather was part of the first "Aliyah" of Russian Jewish immigrants to Palestine in 1882. As for his violin, it was played by its suspected thief for over fifty years, and in 1985, Julian Altman made a deathbed confession to his wife, Marcelle Hall, about the true identity of the instrument. She eventually returned the violin to Lloyd's of London and received a finder's fee; and the instrument underwent a nine month restoration by J & A Beare Ltd which noted it was like "taking dirt off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."

The instrument was then sold to the late British violinist Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus String Quartet. Previous to my fortuitous encounter with the violin at J & A Beare, Brainin had once let me play it after a rehearsal of the Mozart g minor string quintet which I had the pleasure of playing with him one evening in the 1990s. "One day you might be lucky enough to have such a violin," he had said prophetically.

And so here I was in 2001, buying some strings at the violin shop and I was introduced to the 1713 Stradivarius again. As it was handed to me, I was told it was being sold to a wealthy German industrialist for his private collection. However, after playing only a few notes on it I vowed that this would not happen. This was an instrument meant to be played, not just admired. I fell in love with the instrument right away, and even performed that very night on it at the Royal Albert Hall. I simply did not want it to leave my hands.

This violin is special in so many ways. It is overwhelming to think of how many amazing people have held it and heard it. When I perform in Israel with the Israel Philharmonic, I am always touched to think how many of the orchestra and audience members are direct descendants of the musicians Huberman saved from the Holocaust with funds raised by concerts performed on the very same instrument I play every day. Who knows what other adventures will come to my precious violin in the years to come? While it certainly will be enjoyed and admired long after I am not around anymore, for the time being I count myself incredibly lucky to be its caretaker on its 300th birthday.

Hear Joshua Bell play Brahms Violin Concerto on this storied instrument at our Opening Night on September 21. Read more

Posted in Classics.

Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" Poems

Did you know that the music of Vivaldi's Four Seasons is based on four poems written by Antonio Vivaldi? In the music, each "Season" consists of a three-movement concerto. Two quick-tempo outer movements frame a central slow-tempo movement. The sonnets included in the score provide a specific description of each movement.  A prose translation of the original Italian is provided below.


La Primavera (Spring)
Opus 8, No. 1, in E Major

I. Allegro--
Festive Spring has arrived,
The birds salute it with their happy song.
And the brooks, caressed by little Zephyrs,
Flow with a sweet murmur.
The sky is covered with a black mantle,
And thunder, and lightning, announce a storm.
When they are silent, the birds
Return to sing their lovely song.
II. Largo e pianissimo sempre--
And in the meadow, rich with flowers,
To the sweet murmur of leaves and plants,
The goatherd sleeps, with his faithful dog at his side.
III. Danza pastorale. Allegro--
To the festive sound of pastoral bagpipes,
Dance nymphs and shepherds,
At Spring's brilliant appearance.


L'Estate (Summer)
Opus 8, No. 2, in G minor

I. Allegro non molto--
Under the heat of the burning summer sun,
Languish man and flock; the pine is parched.
The cuckoo finds its voice, and suddenly,
The turtledove and goldfinch sing.
A gentle breeze blows,
But suddenly, the north wind appears.
The shepherd weeps because, overhead,
Lies the fierce storm, and his destiny.
II. Adagio; Presto--
His tired limbs are deprived of rest
By his fear of lightning and fierce thunder,
And by furious swarms of flies and hornets.
III. Presto--
Alas, how just are his fears,
Thunder and lightening fill the Heavens, and the hail
Slices the tops of the corn and other grain.


L'Autunno (Autumn)
Opus 8, No. 3, in F Major

I. Allegro--
The peasants celebrate with dance and song,
The joy of a rich harvest.
And, full of Bacchus's liquor,
They finish their celebration with sleep.
II. Adagio molto--
Each peasant ceases his dance and song.
The mild air gives pleasure,
And the season invites many
To enjoy a sweet slumber.
III. Allegro--
The hunters, at the break of dawn, go to the hunt.
With horns, guns, and dogs they are off,
The beast flees, and they follow its trail.
Already fearful and exhausted by the great noise,
Of guns and dogs, and wounded,
The exhausted beast tries to flee, but dies.


L'Inverno (Winter)
Opus 8, No. 4, in F minor

I. Allegro non molto--
Frozen and trembling in the icy snow,
In the severe blast of the horrible wind,
As we run, we constantly stamp our feet,
And our teeth chatter in the cold.
II. Largo--
To spend happy and quiet days near the fire,
While, outside, the rain soaks hundreds.
III. Allegro--
We walk on the ice with slow steps,
And tread carefully, for fear of falling.
Symphony, If we go quickly, we slip and fall to the ground.
Again we run on the ice,
Until it cracks and opens.
We hear, from closed doors,
Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds in battle.
This is winter, but it brings joy.

 
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Posted in Classics.

Spotlight On: Violinist and Conductor Aisslinn Nosky

Hailed as "a fearsomely powerful musician" by The Toronto Star, Canadian-born violinist Aisslinn Nosky is one of the most versatile and dynamic violinists today. She is in demand internationally as a soloist and director and was appointed Concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in 2011. She has performed in solo and chamber music recitals across North America, Europe and Asia. Recent appearances as soloist include La Jolla SummerFest, the Staunton Music Festival, the Thunder Bay Symphony, Holland Baroque, the Calgary Philharmonic, and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. In 2016 Aisslinn was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Niagara Symphony.
 
As a founding member of the Eybler quartet, Nosky explores repertoire from early quartet literature on period instruments. The Eybler Quartet's recording of Haydn's Opus 33 string quartets was released in 2012 on the Analekta label. The Globe and Mail mused "Many a great string quartet annihilates Haydn with incorrect tempos, intense legato, and a general misunderstanding of classical syntax. Here we have them as the composer might have heard them himself. In fact, maybe even better."
 
As Co-Artistic Director of I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble, Aisslinn has helped bring an enthusiastic new audience to baroque music. Since 2001, I FURIOSI has presented its own flamboyant and inventive concert series in Toronto, and they have toured North America and Europe.
 
Aisslinn began playing violin at age three and received her early training at the Nanaimo Conservatory with Heilwig von Konigslow. At age eight, Aisslinn made her solo debut with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. When she was 15, Nosky began studying in Toronto with Lorand Fenyves, at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Glenn Gould School. Further studies included both solo and chamber music for several summers at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and chamber music at the Steans Music Institute of the Ravinia Festival as a member of the Metro String Quartet.
 
Your CSO is excited to welcome Aisslinn as violinist and conductor for Vivaldi Four Seasons.
 
Select your seats today!
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Posted in Classics.

Spotlight On: Violinist Benjamin Beilman



Born in 1989, American violinist Benjamin Beilman is winning plaudits across the globe for his compelling and impassioned performances, his deep rich tone and searing lyricism and is quickly establishing himself as one of the most significant artists of his generation. The New York Times has praised his "handsome technique, burnished sound, and quiet confidence [which] showed why he has come so far so fast". Reviewing his latest recording, The Strad said "Beilman imbues every idea with a scorching expressive imperativeness... soaring aloft with ear-ringingly pure intonation... then lacerating our sensitivities with hectoring explosions of sound."

In Europe Beilman has performed with many of the major orchestras including the London Philharmonic, Frankfurt Radio Symphony and Zurich Tonhalle and in 16/17 made his debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras and the Orchestre National de Capitole de Toulouse. In the US recent highlights have included a return San Francisco Symphony, and debuts with Dallas Symphony, Atlanta Symphony and Nashville Symphony orchestras.
Beilman performs regularly in recital and chamber music, appearing at halls such as Wigmore Hall, Stockholm Concert Hall, Louvre (Paris), Rudolfinum (Prague), Philharmonie (Berlin) and at festivals including Verbier, Aix-en-Provence Easter, Colmar, Moritzburg, Heidelberg and in 2017 he made his debut at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw in the Robeco Summer Concerts in trio with Louis Schwizgebel and Narek Hakhnazaryan. In the US Beilman performs regularly at Carnegie Hall and is a frequent guest artist at festivals such as Music@Menlo, Marlboro, Seattle Chamber Music; further afield he made a ten-city recital tour of Australia in 2016 with Andrew Tyson and looks forward to recitals in SE Asia in the coming seasons.

Beilman has received several prestigious awards including a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a London Music Masters Award. In 2010 he won the First Prize in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, and as First Prize Winner of the 2010 Montréal International Musical Competition and winner of the People's Choice Award, Beilman recorded Prokofiev's complete sonatas for violin on the Analekta label in 2011. In 2016 he released his first disc for Warner Classics titled Spectrum, featuring works by Stravinsky, Janacek and Schubert.
Beilman studied with Almita and Roland Vamos at the Music Institute of Chicago, Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy. He plays the "Engleman" Stradivarius from 1709 generously on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.
 
To learn more about Beilman, visit http://www.benjaminbeilman.com/biography/




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Posted in Classics.

7 Facts You Should Know about Pablo Sáinz Villegas

Before you step into Knight Theater to hear the romantic and fiery sounds of Rodrigo Guitar Concerto, check out these facts about our guest classical guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, otherwise kown as "the soul of the Spanish guitar."

1. Pablo was born June 16, 1977 in La Rioja, Spain.
2. Sáinz Villegas has performed numerous world premieres, including the first guitar piece to have been written by five-time Academy Award-winning composer John Williams.
3. Pablo was given the honor of performing in the presence of the Dalai Lama as well as the Royal Family of Spain. He was also chosen to serve as Cultural Ambassador to the Vivanco Foundation and its museum, considered by UNESCO as the best museum of wine culture in the world.
4. Sáinz Villegas has an extensive history of winning prestigious awards. Perhaps his most honorable was when he became the first guitarist to ever win Spain's top classical music honor, El Ojo Crítico. Pablo also won the famed Parkening International Guitar Competition, and prior to that he was already the recipient of more than 30 international awards, including the Francisco Tárrega Award and the Andrés Segovia Award at age 15.
5. Pablo has helped serve over 15,000 children, as he is the founder of "The Music Without Borders Legacy," a program that seeks to bridge communities across cultural, social, and political borders for the benefit of youth.
6. Sáinz Villegas is well known for his emotional artistry with the guitar, whether it's been in an intimate setting or before more than 85,000 people, as he did while accompanying the admired tenor Plácido Domingo, at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.
7. In the 2015-16 season, Pablo accompanied Plácido Domingo on a floating stage in the Amazon River which was broadcast live to millions of people around the world. 





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Posted in Classics.

9 Things You Should Know About Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Before you step into the concert hall to experience the most performed orchestral work of all time, check out some little known facts about Beethoven's Symphony No. 9! Witness this unparalleled expression of joy live with Christopher Warren-Green and your Charlotte Symphony on September 22, 23 & 24!


1. Symphony No. 9 was the last of Beethoven's symphonies, completed three years before his death in 1824.
 
2. Symphony No. 9 was premiered in Vienna on May 7, 1824.
 
3. When the piece premiered, Beethoven was completely deaf. At the end of the piece, the crowd burst into applause but Beethoven, who had been a few measures behind the symphony, continued to conduct. The contralto, Caroline Unger, walked over to Beethoven and turned him around so he could accept the rousing applause.
 
4. It is the first symphony to incorporate vocal soloists and chorus into what, until then, had been a purely instrumental genre. Words are sung in the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus.
 
5. The words in the final movement were taken from the "Ode to Joy" poem written by Friedrich von Schiller in 1785.
 
6. The Ninth is the most epic of Beethoven's symphonies, both in length and performers utilized. The piece is scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists, mixed chorus, piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings. 
 
7. Beethoven 9 was adopted as the European National Anthem in 1972. In 1985, it became the official anthem of the European Union.
 
8. When Philips started work on their new audio format known as a compact disc, many groups argued over what size it should be. They planned on having a 11.5 cm diameter CD while Sony planned on 10 cm. One bright chap insisted that one CD ought to have the capacity to contain a complete performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The duration ranges from about 65 to 74 minutes which requires a 12 cm diameter, the size of a CD.
 
9. Beethoven was a compositional rebel, rejecting standard classical practices in order to write with emotion. While many of his contemporaries were disgusted, if not intimidated by this, his influence on composers to come after him, like Brahms, Dvorak, and Mahler, shows how important a figure he was. 


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Posted in Classics.

8 Questions with...Oboist Gordon Hunt

Gordon HuntOboist Gordon Hunt joins us Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25 for the riveting Strauss Oboe Concerto. We asked Mr. Hunt a few questions about his friendship with Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, his relationship to the Strauss piece, and his instrument.

CS: Could you share a bit about your friendship with Christopher Warren-Green, both on and off stage?
GH: Chris and I have been friends for a very long time, going back to when he joined the Philharmonia Orchestra as concertmaster. We hit it off straight away, both musically, within the orchestra, and also out of work time, when we spent a great deal of time together.

CS: What is it like to perform with someone you know so well? Does it change the performance at all?
GH: It feels good to work with a close friend - and especially as I am a conductor too, I really appreciate having someone I trust beside me. However, I don't think it fundamentally changes the performance, as in a way the music itself is even greater than the friendship. We are both there to serve the composer and his intentions.

CS: What can listeners expect from the Strauss Oboe Concerto?
GH: The typical mastery of orchestration and understanding of instrumental balance one expects from Richard Strauss, but in this very late work, also a more classical approach than one would expect in his great tone poems.

CS:  What should they listen for specifically, if anything?
GH: The effortless way in which Strauss uses and develops the first simple four note motif, played by the cellos. In effect, he bases the whole concerto on this. Also listen for the very extended lines he weaves for the solo oboe, and the interplay between the soloist and the wind players.

CS: Do you recall the first time you performed this work? How did you feel?
GH: Yes, even though I have performed this piece well over 80 times now, I do remember the first time. I was 21 years old, in Oxford, England. I was excited to be facing this challenge (perhaps the greatest for my instrument), hoped there would be many more chances, and I felt immensely privileged to be playing such wonderful music.

CS:  What do you do just before you go on stage? Do you think any thoughts or have any rituals?
GH: I try to have a few minutes to myself, just being quiet, but I have no rituals!

CS: How would you describe this work?
GH: It is in a way nostalgic, looking to the past, and musically simpler than so much of what Strauss had written before (I have already mentioned the quite "classical" approach). In some way, Strauss is nodding towards his lifelong hero Mozart, but with the unmistakable fingerprint he himself leaves on all his works.

CS: Can you share a few fun facts about your instrument?
GH: As oboists, our lives can seem to revolve around reeds, and sometimes it seems impossible to have one that you really like. Ultimately, it is down to the player to make the instrument sing and to communicate, so I always say that 50% of success in playing the oboe is learning to make good reeds, and the other 50% is leaning to play on bad ones!

Dvorak Symphony No. 7
Friday, March 24 & Saturday, March 25
8 p.m., Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are available online or by phone at 704-972-2000. Read more

Posted in Classics.

2016-2017 Classics Series Announcement

Music Director Christopher Warren-Green talked with WDAV's Frank Dominguez about our upcoming 2016-2017 Classics series at a reception following our Classics performance on Friday, February 5.




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Posted in Classics.

High School Choral Students to Debut with Charlotte Symphony

Seven local high school choral students will experience the thrill of performing live with the Charlotte Symphony November 19-21, 2015 at Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

The concerts, which feature the Fauré Requiem, will mark the debut of the 2015-2016 Young Artists in Residence program, a new immersive choral initiative of the Charlotte Symphony Chorus.

Students who won auditions come from Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Gaston County schools and have spent the last two months rehearsing the Requiem weekly with the Charlotte Symphony Chorus. "It has been a pleasure to work with these fine young musicians," says Kenney Potter, director of choruses for the Charlotte Symphony. "This is a great opportunity for them to perform Fauré's choral masterwork in a professional-caliber setting with the Charlotte Symphony and Charlotte Symphony Chorus."

Watch this video to hear what some of the Young Artists have to say about this unique experience.

The 2015-2016 Charlotte Symphony Chorus Young Artists in Residence are:

Jacob Dyksterhouse, bass, Stuart W. Cramer High School
Claire Houlihan, alto, Northwest School of the Arts
Hannah Keel, soprano, South Point High School
Matthew Noneman, bass, Providence High School
Trinity Sanford, soprano, Northwest School of the Arts
Stephenie Santilli, alto, Northwest School of the Arts
Nathalie Schlesinger, alto, Providence High School

Posted in Classics.

Watch 'Backstory: Bernstein'

On March 10, 2015  Charlotte Symphony Director of Choruses and Assistant Conductor Scott Allen Jarrett and Temple Israel's Cantor Elias Roochvarg led a discussion on Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms.  The Oratorio Singers of Charlotte were on hand to sing excerpts from the score. The talk was a  preview to the Charlotte Symphony performance on March 27 and 28. 

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Posted in Classics.

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